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Alexa, How does Amazon know what you want before you know?

Image by Atsutaka Odaira

I am probably not the only one when I open Amazon and see somehow the product they recommend was something I was looking for. As anything in this world, it is not magic and there is something behind it. Well that something behind is Artificial Intelligence, as you might have already guessed. It seems in comparison to Alphabet/Google, Facebook, Uber, and Apple, Amazon takes a low-key approach to using analytics, artificial learning, and AI. Over many years, Amazon has been an early adopter of algorithms and automation, granting them a competitive advantage of using AI to increase efficiencies, reduce costs, and improve customer service. It has been heavily invested within the company. This is the fourth part of a series on how notable tech giants work/develop with AI.

Amazon’s AI capabilities are designed to offer customized advice to its customers, from using AI to forecast the amount of people likely to purchase a new product to operating a cashier-less supermarket. According to a survey by Apiumhub, Amazon’s recommendation engine accounts for 35% of overall revenue. One of the primary ways in which Amazon is using continuous AI is to better consider their consumer search requests and why they are searching for a specific product. For an e-commerce firm to make appropriate decisions for its clients, it is important for them to consider not just what their customers searched for, but also why a consumer is shopping for a product. Understanding the context will assist the company in recommending similar products to its consumers, and Amazon intends to solve this puzzle by using AI.

Amazon has explored using artificial intelligence and machine learning to predict the context of their customers’ search queries. This framework was designed to improve the accuracy of search results on the Amazon.com website, with the aim of improving the overall Amazon customer experience. Amazon researchers explained how most retailers use product discovery algorithms to look for similarities between queries and products; however, Amazon used their AI to find the best matches based on the sense of use in a paper admitted to the ACM SIGIR Conference on Human Information Interaction and Retrieval. As a result, the machine forecasts behaviors such as “running” from consumer inquiries such as “Adidas men’s trousers,” or whether an Amazon customer enters the question “waterproof shoes,” is she planning a weeklong hike?

Usage of AI is not limited to the Amazon service we all know. An approach that Amazon follows in terms of AI is called flywheel. A flywheel is a deceptively easy instrument used in engineering to effectively store rotational energy. It operates by saving energy while a device isn’t running at full capacity. Instead of losing electricity by turning on and off, the flywheel maintains a steady level of energy and distributes it to other parts of the system.

The company was one of the first to use the technology to drive its product recommendations. But as AI and machine learning grow, the flywheel approach has become a keystone to Amazon’s expanding business — a central stone at the summit of the company, connecting the organization together. This is particularly unique at a time when many companies silo their AI efforts and don’t integrate them into the overall company.

The flywheel strategy at Amazon keeps AI creativity humming and inspires resources and experience to travel to other parts of the business. Amazon’s flywheel strategy ensures that machine learning creativity in one part of the organization drives the efforts of other teams. The teams which use technologies to power their products, have an impact on creativity in the enterprise. Essentially, what is developed in one region of Amazon serves as a catalyst for the development of AI and machine learning in other fields. Amazon is no stranger to artificial intelligence.

In a world where so many businesses are hampered by bureaucracy, it is exciting to see Amazon knock down barriers and promote competition and success around the company. If other businesses wish to prosper and remain on the cutting forefront of emerging technologies, they should think about a new operational solution like the flywheel.

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Written by Wanonno Iqtyider

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